The proposal was made by the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC), which is a ministerial-level central administration organization under the authority of the Prime Minister and also functions as a quasi-judiciary body. The KFTC formulates and administers competition policies, and deliberates, decides and handles antitrust cases. The Ministry of Finance & Economy transferred the consumer policy function to the KFTC in 2008 following the government’s organizational restructuring. Since then, the KFTC has been administering consumer policies aimed at strengthening consumer empowerment.
The KFTC decided to set up an integrated consumer contact center (ICCC) through integrating consumer counseling systems in order to better educate and inform consumers according to the <2009-2011 Fundamental Plan for Consumer Policy> which was developed and announced at the 2008 2nd Consumer Policy Committee meeting (October 1, 2008). Also, the KFTC set out to establish a consumer counseling center in 2009 to promptly and efficiently provide counseling services and handle consumer damages according to the <2009 Consumer Policy Action Plan> which was deliberated and decided at the 2009 1st Consumer Policy Committee meeting (March 13, 2009).
In line with need for integrating consumer counseling systems, the initial plan was to set up an integrated system over a two-year period from 2009-2010 by investing KRW8 billion, but the period was shortened to one year by investing KRW6.5 billion and the system was opened on January 4, 2010 for pilot operation.
The Korea Consumer Agency (KCA) acted as a supporter. KCA is a government-funded public agency established in 1987 (in accordance with the Consumer Framework Act) and operates under the authority of the KFTC. In line with the KFTC’s consumer policy, ‘customer-oriented service’ was chosen as one of the top 7 mid-term management goals of the KCA for 2009-2011 and ‘improvement of customer interests’ was chosen as one of the 15 strategic tasks to achieve goals.
The National Consumer Counseling Center opened its service in 2010 and the KFTC entrusted the KCA to operate the center’s information technology infrastructure. The KCA organized a specialized team to operate the system efficiently and results get reflected in employees’ performance reviews, in order to ensure sustainable system management.
Local governments have focused efforts toward strengthening protection for rural consumers by establishing local consumer centers; however, such efforts were not enough given the lack of budget, manpower and expertise compared to the central government. There are ten consumer organizations which are members of the Korea National Council of Consumer Organizations provide consumer counseling services in respective offices across the nation, and organizes the voluntary dispute resolution committee to resolve consumer damages related to door-to-sales and multi-level marketing.
Given that local governments and consumer organizations operated their own counseling systems and database systems, they were against participating in the integrated consumer counseling system. Accordingly, the KFTC and KCA visited local governments and consumer organizations nationwide to encourage their participation.